France 19-24 New Zealand: Hosts fight back but All Blacks survive
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 26/11/16 10:28pm
France almost proved New Zealand's bogey side once more as the All Blacks endured a fightback to secure a 24-19 win in Paris.
The victory rounded off an incredible year for the All Blacks, the team having notched up 13 wins in 14 matches as well as taking the Rugby Championship title with two rounds to play, and also equalling the record unbeaten streak of 18 games, started in 2015.
The sole hiccup came at Irish hands in Chicago when they went down 40-29. But having avenged that defeat with a 21-9 win in Dublin, it was back to business at a packed Stade de France.
The last time these two teams met, it was embarrassing, with France going down 62-13 in the quarter-final of last year's World Cup.
But the visitors were made to work for victory this time, Beauden Barrett scoring an intercept try and converting that and two other tries by Israel Dagg and Charlie Faumuina, as well as booting one penalty.
France's points came from a Louis Picamoles try, converted by Baptiste Serin, whose two penalties matched those of Maxime Machenaud.
France dominated the opening exchanges, Lopez spurning a sixth minute shot at the posts for an attacking lineout after a great Virimi Vakatawa break.
But it came to nothing as the All Blacks shut down their defence. And then, with their first chance of the game, Barrett cross-kicked to Julian Savea, who passed inside to Dagg for an outstanding try.
Kevin Gourdon again proved the link man as France came back up the field, Lopez bundled into touch by Waisake Naholo just five metres from the New Zealand tryline.
Barrett extended the visitors' lead with a penalty, which was then cancelled out by Machenaud.
Vakatawa was freed up for another run down his left wing, steaming into the All Black 22m area before popping up an offload to Wesley Fofana. The centre, under pressure, was unable to hold on for what was the home side's best try-scoring opportunity.
When Naholo was caught in possession with Charles Ollivon breathing down his neck, referee Wayne Barnes had no option but to award a penalty, with Machenaud making no mistake with his second effort to leave it finely poised at 10-6 at half-time.
France opened the second period on the front foot, Gourdan firing his side deep in New Zealand territory.
But one hit-up too many and a decision to play the blindside against a charging All Black defence saw Barrett intercept Lopez's pass and sprint 90 metres untouched for a try he converted himself.
Replacement scrum-half Serin booted his first penalty as France, led by New Zealand-born prop Uini Atonio and Sebastien Vahaamahina, continued to threaten with ball in hand.
But it was another tighthead who was next on the scoreboard, Faumuina driving over after Barrett opted against a penalty and took the touch to attack through the lineout.
France skipper Guilhem Guirado then fell centimetres short of the line, but the home side finally scored a try after Serin broke and produced a delightful back-of-the-hand offload for Picamoles to crash over from close range.
With 10 minutes to play, New Zealand again turned down a kickable penalty, opting for a scrum in the French 22m area. But that came to nothing, France taking no such option when they had a chance - Serin slotting his second penalty to bring the home side within five points with three minutes to play.
The All Blacks did not panic, and saw out time until the final whistle to round off a sterling year.